Written by Vladimir Nabokov (but really by Stanley Kubrick & James B. Harris)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
As both the film’s trailer and poster asked, “How did they ever make a movie about Lolita?” To say this is an extremely controversial book is an understatement, but also to say that the controversy surrounding the book is overblown would be as well. Lolita is sometimes categorized as an erotic novel, and, as someone who has read Nabokov’s book, I didn’t find anything erotic in the whole text. It’s a first-person narrative told by an unreliable narrator whom the author has called “a vain and cruel wretch.” The novel Lolita is a literary text dripping with irony. There’s a bizarre penchant for modern American culture to assume “protagonist” is equivalent to “hero,” and I guess our popular media has pushed that paradigm aggressively. I don’t think that is the case, and often the most interesting stories are the ones told from a villain’s point of view, which does not mean we are expected to agree with the narrator.
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Uncle Buck (1989)
Written & Directed by John Hughes
Uncle Buck will forever be associated with John Candy. When you see the actor, you almost always think of this picture. In turn, it signals the end of an era for filmmaker John Hughes. This was the first film he did as part of a multi-picture deal with Universal. Hughes had already signed with Universal in the early 1980s after the success scripts for Mr. Mom and National Lampoon’s Vacation. After The Breakfast Club, Hughes soured on the deal, he was known for being very contentious with studios. Uncle Buck was his return to Universal after a four-year sojourn, and about a year later, he would be trying to get out of the contract already. Uncle Buck is a movie that exists as both a pleasant piece of nostalgia for millennials but is also a moment when a great mainstream director’s career began to wither.
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Search Party Season 3 (HBO Max)
Written by Sarah-Violet Bliss & Charles Rogers, Craig Rowin, Andrew Pierce Fleming & Matt Kriete, Starlee Kine, Jordan Firstman, and Sabrina Jalees
Directed by Sarah-Violet Bliss & Charles Rogers, Jay Duplass, and Carrie Brownstein
Search Party feels like a tv series than an indie film franchise with each season’s supporting cast changing to fit the direction of our four millennial mains’ lives. The stakes of the series have ratcheted up with each iteration. Season one was a reasonably light, missing person mystery that ended on a surprisingly dark note. Season two was a study in PTSD and guilt, veering the series into some bleak territory while still finding humor in the situation. Now season three gives us courtroom drama and such a massive development in our protagonist’s persona that it is downright chilling in moments.
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Who’s Harry Crumb? (1989)
Written by Robert Conte & Peter Martin Wortmann
Directed by Paul Flaherty
Certain films are made to challenge the audience’s expectations of an actor or allow them to stretch their acting chops in a new direction. Who’s Harry Crumb? seems like it is that sort of film, existing to give John Candy a chance to play more characters and play a confident idiot. The result is something that, in moments, plays to his strengths but so often falls flat and is ultimately a waste of talent and resources. This was a movie intended to create a new comedy franchise but did so poorly with audiences and critics that it’s become another forgettable 1980s comedic footnote.
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Ready or Not (2019)
Written by Guy Busick & R. Christopher Murphy
Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett
Horror comedies are a hard sell for me personally. I love the horror genre, but my tastes lean more towards more somber, bleak affairs with hints of humor. I think Ari Aster is a perfect example of how much comedy I will accept in the horror films I like, little dashes, well-timed, and never ruining the atmosphere and tone. Ready or Not is a movie that looks fantastic, the color grading is beautiful and gives every frame a rich texture. It comes out of the tradition of shlocky horror movies with a wild premise that the filmmakers wholeheartedly commit to. However, the script and some of the acting take away from what could have been a great film and leave as just a passing bit of fun.
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The Great Outdoors (1988)
Written by John Hughes
Directed by Howard Deutch
John Hughes was such a hot property in the 1980s and has his script being directed by many other directors. Before his untimely death at age 59, he only directed eight films. Compare that to the over thirty scripts he wrote between 1983 and 2008. When you write that many movies, you must accept that the quality would vary and near the end of his life. Even during Hughes’s peak, there were some middling but entertaining pictures like The Great Outdoors. This is a deep childhood favorite for me, and I admit as an adult, not all the jokes that hit hard in my youth still have that effect it is still a wonderfully fun family comedy with that edge 1980s movies seemed to have.
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Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987)
Written & Directed by John Hughes
After years of great turns as a supporting character and a couple stumbling blocks as a lead actor, John Candy finally found the filmmaker that understood his particular strengths in John Hughes. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is one of the best American comedies of the late 20th century, able to provide ample laughs and intelligent observations about contemporary middle-class life, the rigors of travel, and the burden of always needing to work to keep up. Candy plays to all his strengths as an actor, particularly how he can evoke great pathos from the audience.
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Armed and Dangerous (1986)
Written by Brian Grazer, James Keach, Harold Ramis, and Peter Torokvei
Directed by Mark L. Lester
John Candy was most well known by comedy fans in 1986 from his work on SCTV. The series ran from 1976 through 1984 under the names Second City TV, SCTV Network 90, and finally SCTV Channel. In total, he appeared in almost ninety episodes, and one of his consistent co-stars was fellow Canadian, Eugene Levy. Modern audiences mostly know Levy from his role as Johnny Rose on Schitt’s Creek and if Christopher Guest’s mockumentary comedies. Pairing the two in a feature film at the beginning of their popularity with American audiences sounds like a perfect idea, however Armed and Dangerous didn’t turn out that way.
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Summer Rental (1985)
Written by Jeremy Stevens & Mark Reisman
Directed by Carl Reiner
John Candy was born in Ontario in 1950 to a working-class Roman Catholic family. His dad passed away when John was only five years old, but having a large family support group, he was able to work through that time. As a young adult, he went to college for journalism and pivoted when he discovered how much enjoyed performing. This led to his joining the Toronto branch of The Second City and several guest spots on Candian television. It was his work on SCTV, Second City’s response to the popularity of Saturday Night Live that brought him to the attention of the American public. After a few small film roles, John gained his most prominent recognition in a supporting role in Ivan Reitman’s Stripes. He became a regular comedic supporting figure in pictures like National Lampoon’s Vacation and especially Splash. Summer Rental was John’s first starring role, and it would lead to many more headlining spots.
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The Personal History of David Copperfield (2020)
Written by Simon Blackwell & Armando Iannucci
Directed by Armando Iannucci
David Copperfield is a dense 600 page+ novel and adapting it to the screen is a daunting task. It has been adapted to television and film fourteen times ranging from ninety-minute movies to thirteen-part mini-series. When you take anything from page to screen, you must make cuts and take artistic liberties. The focus should be on preserving the themes and tone of the work, and if certain scenes have to go, that’s okay. British filmmaker Armando Iannucci manages to pull off this feat in two hours by reinventing the text and providing a thematic framework through bookends. The result is one of the most genuinely joyous celebrations of life’s complexities and coincidences that I have seen in a long time.
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